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The Europeans really do it right. An hour or two before sunset, when the work day winds down, it's practically mandatory to congregate outside with a refreshing drink in hand. There are different names for this ritual – the Italians call it l'aperitivo, the French l'apero – but at its core is the drink we've all come to know as the aperitif. Made for easy, versatile drinking, the aperitif is that special kind of miracle: a strongly flavored cocktail that's still got a light touch.
It's not the type of drinking we do too often here stateside. We tend to fall into two camps: liquor for when you really want to get the job done, or beer and wine when you feel like pacing yourself. But the aperitif's alcohol content falls pleasantly in the middle. It's a big part of why the Aperol Spritz made such a splash a few years ago – it’s a drink that feels like the best of both worlds.
Lucky for us, Aperol is just the tip of the iceberg. There's a whole world of aperitifs and liqueurs to kick our nights off on the right foot. The three below are just a few of the standouts, but to me they seem like kindred spirits. Not only are they delicious, they're also all fruit-based: the first, Current Cassis, comes from blackcurrants; Le Moné is a brand-new product made from Meyer lemons; and the wine-based Veso draws on both strawberries and oranges.
If you're imagining a saccharine-sweet sangria, let me be clear: that could not be further from the vibe. These drinks are complex, balanced – and most of all, a damn good time.
Current Cassis (prices vary, ~$27.99/bottle)
Speaking of the US vs. EUR divide, créme de cassis is a great place to start. A liquor made from blackcurrants, 99% of the world's cassis comes exclusively from France. Part of that is due to a law that lasted through much of the 20th century prohibiting American farmers from growing blackcurrants, since they were partially responsible for spreading blight to white pine trees. But now that that ban has been lifted in New York state, Current Cassis is here to reinvigorate the market.
A friend of mine who lives in the Catskills had been evangelizing the stuff, and as soon as I tried my first bottle I understood why. There's nothing else quite like this flavor: the fruitiness is insanely fresh, but because currants are tart, it's bracing and acidic too. I've never been a big champagne person, but suddenly I was desperate to make myself a Kir Royale, the flagship drink that tops a shot of cassis with a glass-full of champs. Not only is the color gorgeous, the cassis really gets to shine, perfectly cutting through to give you more than just endless fizz.
Le Moné ($35/bottle)
Fortifying a New York farm wine with California brandy, Le Moné makes an aperitif that’s part wine, part spirit. Thanks to the base of sharp, floral Meyer lemon, it also drinks like limoncello’s much chiller sister. I truthfully am a huge limoncello fan, but at 40% alcohol by volume, that stuff can hit you like a train. Le Moné has a much lower ABV of 16%, meaning that as pleasant as it is in all kinds of cocktails, you can enjoy every bit of sipping it on the rocks.
And lemon is just the tip of the iceberg. Besides the classic, Le Moné comes in three other flavors: Lemon Orange Lime, Lemon Raspberry & Lavender, and Lemon Blackberry. All make for a pretty fantastic spritz, but the brand’s addition of blue weber agave also makes it a fantastic companion to tequila. Take it from me, the Le Moné margarita is a surefire slam-dunk. But no matter how you drink it, the New York Times has it right: these bottles have “enough bright, citric flavor to cancel winter.” From now on, when life gives you lemons, you say “bottoms up.”
Produced and bottled in San Francisco, CA, Veso prides itself on using all real fruits and spices instead of mass-produced syrups. And that's a difference you can taste. Both flavors, Strawberry Solstice and Vanilla Nightfall, have a fresh and vibrant bouquet that takes you right to the orchards they came from. But like the other two aperitifs above, any worries I had about too much sweetness were totally unfounded. In fact it’s the grapefruit that comes through more than anything, and the grape-based spirits taste aged like a sherry and nothing like a white wine spritzer.
Veso is a great companion with a ton of different garnishes – from citrus slices to briny olives to herbaceous rosemary, it plays well with a whole host of flavors. And with free shipping on orders of 2+ bottles, it's easy to recommend their double-whammy Variety Box. Your favorite one might surprise you: I assumed I'd be Team Strawberry all the way, but it's the warming spices in Vanilla Nightfall that kept me coming back for seconds.
So there we are: three new, inventive options for when you're looking for that drink that can carry you from day into night. These apéritifs will happily let you play DJ, equally suited for complicated mixology as they are for a glass and two ice cubes. As someone who tends to stay away from things described as "fruit-forward," I've never been happier to reexamine my own blind spot. It's the sunny, succulent fruitiness of these three apéritifs that are truly worth celebrating.
These apéritifs will happily let you play DJ, equally suited for complicated mixology as they are for a glass and two ice cubes.
Five More Reasons To Love These Bottles:
1. Current Cassis is bottled in the Hudson Valley, just a few miles from where the blackcurrants are grown. Talk about local produce.
2. If you do make that Le Moné margarita, one big perk is that the liqueur is way lower in sugar and calories than any other store-bought mixes.
3. Veso is a love letter to California, infusing locally-made white wine with spices and fruits sourced from across the state.
4. All three brands are completely vegan and gluten-free.
5. Aperol Spritz fans can feel free to sub any of these 1:1 with Aperol – go ahead, try something new!